Interview with Indie Developers Team2Bit

In the last decade there has been an increased number of people becoming better known after getting exposure for their talents through reality TV shows, be it The X Factor for singers, or Got to Dance for dancers. Recently, six indie development teams were invited to take part in an IGN reality show called The Next Game Boss and I was lucky enough to be able to interview the winners, Jake and Matt Lewandowski of Team2Bit (known on the show as Team Fist Puncher).

 

Laura: For those who don’t know, could you tell us a little about yourselves? Who are Team2Bit?

Matt: Team2Bit is a small, indie videogame studio comprised of two brothers, Jake and Matt Lewandowski. Originally from the cold, bitter Midwestern state of Wisconsin where there’s little to do for five months of the year other than play videogames and watch TV, we embraced making games as a hobby during the early days of grade school but we never really thought about trying to commercialize or release any of the games we’ve worked on (although someday we might force Jake to dig up his Max Headroom Commodore simulation). Eventually we found our way out to scenic Santa Cruz, California and decided to take our passion for making games and share it with the rest of the world. Our goal is to create fun, humorous titles that stress gameplay, characterization, and personality while embracing a distinct retropixel art” visual style that make our games instantly recognizable. Our first major release, “Fist Puncher”, will be out on Xbox Live Indie Games later this year and will hopefully make it to other platforms as well.

 

Laura: Many people will have first heard about you on the IGN Start show The Next Game Boss. How did the process of you getting onto the show work?

Matt: First off, for those who don’t know, we were seen competing as Team Fist Puncher (Team Team2Bit just didn’t fly with the producers) on the IGN YouTube show The Next Game Boss. The show is essentially an elimination reality show where teams compete in a series of challenges aimed at designing and implementing an original videogame. We first heard about the show from the guys over at Armless Octopus. They gave us a heads up that IGN was looking for indie devs in the San Francisco Bay Area for a new reality TV show. We had a quick meeting where we discussed the logistics (would IGN make us shave our trademark scruffy beards?) and decided to go for it. After numerous phone conversations with the talent director, a face to face meeting with the producers and technical advisors at the IGN headquarters, and ploughing through seemingly endless stacks of paperwork, we were selected to take part in the show. It all happened pretty quickly and was a little surreal (are we really going to sit in front of a camera and help make a reality TV show?). Nonetheless, the show started pretty quickly after the selection process so we didn’t have much time to stress out about this somewhat massive thing that we had suddenly committed to.

 

 

Laura: How was your experience on the show? What are the main things you felt you learnt from your time there?

Jake: Overall we had an excellent experience. Everyone at IGN and Reveille, from the producers down to the production crew, were very supportive and stressed that the main goal was to let us be ourselves and try to show viewers what the process of making an original, working game from start to finish looks like. Obviously the show is ultimately a competition, but behind the scenes there was also a tremendous sense of synergy and cooperation between the teams. Both when the cameras were on and when the cameras were off, teams were openly helping and supporting one another and sharing their knowledge and experience. It’s hard not to feel inspired when you’re around that sort of teamwork. It was also interesting to see what we’re actually capable of when you strip away the distractions, buckle down, and use intense focus to get something done. Seriously, some of the time limits on the challenges were very, very limited. For example, in Episode 3, we had one hour to come up with a unique game concept and generate a pitch and presentation all while working with someone who was essentially a stranger. That’s pretty darn tough. Just seeing what we were able to get done in a limited time really stressed how much time and energy is wasted when we lack focus or have to compete with the distractions of daily life.

 

Laura: You have your first major release, Fist Puncher, coming to Xbox live indie games later this year. Could you tell us a little about the game? What were your inspirations when designing it?

Jake: Fist Puncher is a retro-styled, side scrolling beat ’em up. Players can choose to control one of a team of vigilantes as they fight their way through the streets of a lawless city using hand to hand combat, special attacks and an assortment of found weapons. With characters like Dr. Karate, Kid Justice, Steroid Jackson and Hella Fistgerald there’s obviously a humorous tone, but the game also features RPG elements, tons of unlockables and plenty of secrets to discover.

The gameplay is influenced heavily by classic beat ’em up games like Double Dragon and River City Ransom, along with more modern examples of the genre like Castle Crashers. The themes represent many of the frustrations we personally have experienced with crime in our neighbourhoods. When we started the game in 2010, Matt lived in a part of town that was rife with vandalism, violence and general criminal behaviour. We wanted to make a game that let us vent the anger we felt when we saw lives around us being ripped apart by gang violence and brutality. Of course the humour was unavoidable when you mix those feelings with pixel art anarchists getting tased in the neck.

 

 

Laura: What other platforms are you interested in developing for and why?

Jake: One of the main reasons we chose to start with Xbox LIVE Indie Games is because Xbox controllers are so perfect for giving the tactile response associated with arcade games and older consoles. Touch screens and keyboards are fine, but they aren’t my first choice for a gaming experience. However, the XBLIG marketplace has some limitations so we’re always looking at other platforms. Other consoles like PS3 and the next Nintendo console would be ideal, but for practical purposes we’re looking more at PC releases, the App Store and web games. These platforms have a lower bar for entry and lend themselves better to Indies working with a guerrilla approach like us.

 

Laura: It’s easy to tell from looking at some of your games that you’re heavily influenced by the 8-bit era of gaming. What games in particular do you feel shaped your game development style? What were your favourite games to play growing up?

Jake: Our favourite beat ’em up game will always be Double Dragon. Before that it felt like games were always about spaceships or silly cartoon animal characters. With Double Dragon you could hit street thugs in the gut with a baseball bat or smash them in the face with a barrel, definitely a step in a more realistic and gritty direction. Legend of Zelda and Metal Gear were favourites because they allowed for a sense of exploration. You never knew what was hidden in the deepest corners of those kinds of games, you had to dig in and find out for yourself.

 

Laura: What advice would you have for someone looking to get into game development?

Jake: The great thing about game development these days is it’s not something you need to ‘break into’ persay, you can just start doing it. There are so many free tools and distribution portals out there that anyone can make games and get them out for people to play. Certainly there are educational paths that might put you on course to get a job as a cog in the vast AAA game industry but nothing is stopping anyone from making games on their own right now. Pick up Unity, Flash, XNA or Gamemaker, read some tutorials on the internet and get to it. If you really love making games you’ll find it isn’t that hard and the more you work at it the better you get.

If you want to specialize in a specific area, maybe art or coding, then you just need to find some people to work with that are interested in the other parts. Starting an indie game studio is the new ‘forming a band’, you don’t need much more than inspiration and the basic tools. Don’t wait around; if you dream of making games, you should be making them already.

 

Laura: Recently, game developers Double Fine were able to fund a point and click adventure game, as well as other related projects, by fundraising through Kickstarter. Fans helped fund the project, being promised things like a copy of the game. Do you see this being a possible future for game funding, or do you think this is likely to be a one off?

Jake: Double Fine‘s success with Kickstarter is definitely the start of a new trend with game funding. Of course they have an excellent track record full of past successes, so their campaign resonated with fans quickly and they had no problem raising significantly more money than they were asking for. I know lots of indie developers have Tim Schafer shaped stars in their eyes right now, imagining themselves raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for their zombie text adventure or whatever they’re working on. It’s not going to be that easy for everyone, but it opens another avenue for funding video game projects. New economic models have been a largely unheralded, but integral part of the current blossoming of the indie game scene – from crowdfunding to creative game bundling, developers are seeing there are many ways to get paid for your work.

 

Laura: Do you have any plans for the future, after the release of Fist Puncher, which you can tell us about?

Matt: Between all of the interest and activity generated by The Next Game Boss, sorting out the details of trying to release Washington’s Wig (the game we designed and worked on while on The Next Game Boss), getting ready for the Game Developers Conference, and making the final push to release Fist Puncher, it’s tough to focus much on our next game. We certainly have some ideas (our Badger Shark character might finally see the light of day and we certainly have kicked around some more ideas involving patriotism and pets), but nothing is at the point where we’re ready to reveal the details with our adoring fans. Some of it will also depend on how Fist Puncher does on Xbox. With a little luck we might be devoting a good amount of energy to porting it to other platforms. Either way, it’s fairly certain that our next project will contain our trademark wacky, absurdist humour and force indie game art snobs to post seething, vitriolic rants about our childish games that lack maturity and serious content. What more could we hope for?

(Laura: since the interview, Washington’s Wig has been confirmed to be coming to Xbox Live Indie Games, along with other platforms, via a tweet from the developers)

Laura: Lastly, do you have any final words?

Matt: Quickly, we would like to say thank you to all the people from around the world that have sent messages of support after seeing us on The Next Game Boss. We can’t begin to tell everyone how much that means and how much we appreciate all the positive energy people have sent our way. I know some of you are itching to get your hands on our games so just hold tight, the wait is almost over.

 

You can view Team2Bit on The Next Game Boss at youtube.com/start and more information can be found on their website team2bit.com.

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2 Comments

  1. […] a sense of humour, and their first release is the old school beat ‘em up “Fist Puncher”. In a recent interview the brothers discussed Double Fine’s success with using Kickstarter to fund their game and […]

  2. […] it happen?”. Well today, I can exclusively announce that you have the chance to do just that. We Recently interviewed Team2Bit, Winners of IGNs “The Next Game Boss”, who I can reveal are giving you the chance to be a […]

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